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Preseason Week 1 Preview: Cowboys at Raiders

Bryson Treece

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The 2009 NFL season is just around the corner now. We're four games away from the first regular season game - but that doesn't mean we don't still have some football to look at this month. The Titans and Bill got the preseason started and in a pleasing way I might add, but the Dallas Cowboys start this Thursday night against Oakland, in Oakland.

Millions are watching to see what the Cowboys are going to do this season. Not only because Terrell Owens was cut, not only because of how badly they lost to the Eagles in the 2008 regular season finale, and not only because our injury prone team is seeming just that, injury prone - and it's still before their first preseason game.

Training camp injuries for us are like pads and helmets - don't step on the field without 'em. That's how it's been going since Felix Jones first went down last year, and he wasn't even the first injury of the year. Terence Newman was the first last year, and he was either first or a damn close second this year too, with Mike Jenkins possibly edging him out on that one. Their injuries aren't supposed to be serious, but our DB core will be missing both of its starting corners for this weeks game and why shouldn't they sit out? After last year, I don't think there is a man in this organization that doesn't think long and hard about playing a hurt guy.

But there's still so much more to it - the first preseason game - so I've got my fellow fans here to help me break it all down for you, one unit at a time. First up?


Defense

Finally the time has come for the 2009-10 NFL season to begin for the Dallas Cowboys. Thursday night in Oakland the Cowboys will have their first of four PreSeason games.

This is the most meaningless game of the four simply because the starters will only play the first two series, from then on we will get the largest look at the rest of the team.

Wade Phillips starts his campaign as the Defensive Coordinator and we can expect to see a fairly extensive blitz package. So far in training camp Wade has blitzed the Cowboys Offense with every opportunity. The defensive question marks coming into the season are the same things we saw the 'Boys struggle with last year.

  • Interior Run Defense
  • Secondary
  • Ability to Force Turnovers


While this is a meaningless game, here are a few things to keep a watchful eye on.

  • The play of the Defensive line (Are they able to hold up at the point of attack?)
  • The play of Junior Siavii (Can he play well enough to spell J Ratt?)
  • T New and Mike Jenkins will not play so keep an eye on Scandrick and the rest
  • The Rookie Linebackers (Can the defense still function at a high level with them in the game?)
  • With all the blitzing going on have the Cowboys upgraded their depth at the Safety positions?


The Oakland Raiders, like the Cowboys, have a wealth of talent in the backfield, so they should allow the Coaching staff to get a good look at the defensive front.

The Raiders also have a ton of speed in their receivers, add that to the blitz equation and we should be able to get a decent idea on the strength - or lack there of - in the secondary. Here is my list of players to keep an eye on.

  • Michael Hamlin (This guy has been around the ball in every practice but can he do it in a game?)
  • Mike Mickens (Missed the OTA’s and has been struggling so far in camp. His time with the Cowboys may depend on his performance in this game.)
  • Bobby Carpenter (Once again having a very solid Training Camp, but can he finally carry that over into an actual game?)
  • Courtney Brown and Alan Ball (Can they impress enough to impede the progress of the rookies? Or will they struggle and open the door for Mickens?)


I really hate the preseason! Forces me to look solely at the moving parts instead of the sum of those parts! Enjoy the game!

Defensive analysis provided by Bags030404



Offense

Whats the Scoop?

The Dallas Cowboys will head to Oakland for a preseason battle. The Cowboys offense will come showing a little bit of a new flare. The implementation of new formations and personnel will make the Cowboys a bit of a different team, but surely still one of the most talented teams in the league.


What to expect?

Expect… Tony Romo to get a few good series’ in. He will finally get the opportunity to display his offseason work that has been heavily criticized. Directly connected to the progression and development of Tony Romo will be this years receiver corp. A young group that will feature Roy Williams and Patrick Crayton, with Sam Hurd and Miles Austin providing solid talent and depth. You should expect to see more of Hurd and Austin thAn anything else.

The most important thing that you should expect is a lot of risky play calling that will take advantage of the exhibition game. Expect Jason Garrett to experiment with his running backs in two back sets and also moving them into receiver slots. This game will provide the Cowboys a lot of perspective as to what will work and what won't. Keep an eye on the possibility of the Razorback (Wildcat) formation.


What to look for?

First team offense:

Once again look for consistency in Tony Romo and the First team offense. This is crucial to understanding where the Cowboys will land this season. Look for timing, pass release, and snaps from center. Your eyes should be peeled for limited penalties from the O-line and maximum protection. From the tight ends you want to see that both Witten and Bennett are involved in the game together, look for multiple tight end formations or formations that have tight ends spread out or in the fullback position.

The possibility of new formation alignment is the most intriguing. With so many versatile players you’ll see everyone lined up everywhere. Felix Jones can play receiver, Barber can play fullback, Bennett and Witten can play receiver or fullback, and Crayton and Austin can move into the slot to perform, as well as Hurd playing in the #2 slot. Stanback and Crayton can play Razorback quarterback, and Felix Jones will see a lot of different situations.

Second and Third team offense:

Not too much that is going to matter a whole lot. Kitna will get some play but he’s a proven veteran. Expect and anticipate a strong showing from McGee. He’s been slow so far in camp, having trouble and getting shaken in the pocket. He’ll need to find his confidence and a preseason game can really aid that.

The most important battle to keep an eye on will be receiver. The Cowboys are expected to only keep 5 and 4 spots are locked up. Stanback has come on strong but Manuel Johnson, Holley-wood, and Kevin Ogletree have all impressed a bit in camp. As they’ll all get the second half to show what they can do, expect someone to begin to break away.


The result?

A lot will be tested and proven in this game against Oakland. Hopefully our First team will get some chemistry going and it’ll provide some calmness to settle over a very criticized unit. A lot of young talent sits in our system and we’ll get to see some of it Thursday night!

Offensive analysis provided by Bryan Martin


Special Teams

During this year’s draft, Special Team’s was a focus, drafting 9 players out of 12 with their ability to contribute to this side of the ball in mind. Granted, there may be a future in the starting line up for many of these players, but this year their roster spot will likely be earned flying down the field on kick off and punt coverage and throwing blocks where needed on the opposite side of the spectrum.

Whereas on Offense and Defense, where we will likely only see the starters for the first few series, throughout the game when the Special Team’s take the field, what you see in Preseason will be very close to what you get in the Regular season, when it comes to the skill positions: Mat McBriar will be the punter, Nick Folk, will likely be handling the extra points and Field Goals and handling the kick off duties will likely be the freak of nature phenomenon David Buehler (pronounced Beeler, for those not already in the know). Outside of those positions, though, are the plethora of bubble-boy’s.

The Special Teams portion of Thursday night’s game will grant us the truest picture of how we did in the Draft, since it’s too early to expect these rookies to perform within a new defense and offense at the top of their potential. For instance, while many people have thought that some of these rookies are slower than their combine’s/pro day’s suggested, the veterans have contended that their problem is not physical speed, but mental speed (e.g. their reaction time). The mental side of offense and defense comes with experience. On Special Team’s, though, their physical speed should be evident.


What to look for:

  • Touchbacks. Can Buehler routinely kick it into the endzone in game situations?
  • How will coverage perform, particularly with the recent change in the rules, which prevents the kick return team from forming a wedge of 3 or more players?
  • Has Matt McBriar returned to form after suffering a season ending injury last year to his kicking foot?
  • Is Nick Folk still clutch?
  • Lastly, and most importantly in my mind, what rookie and/or perennial benchwarmer embraces Special Team’s ala Keith Davis and emerges as the new leader. Personally, with as many unit’s as he will likely be featured on, I’d like to see Buehler assume this role, though it may be too soon in his career.

Special teams analysis provided by Jonathan



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Dallas Cowboys

Despite Changes, Cowboys Offense Still Runs Through Ezekiel Elliott

Jess Haynie

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Ezekiel Elliott, Rams

We've talked a lot this offseason about the changes at Offensive Coordinator and slot receiver, or how Jason Witten's return will impact the tight end position. But while all of these will impact the Dallas Cowboys' offense in 2019, the constant feature remains Running Back Ezekiel Elliott and the rushing attack.

From 2016 to 2018, since the Cowboys drafted Elliott, Dallas has ranked 1st, 3rd, and 10th among NFL teams in "run vs. pass" play calls. That's only logical; you don't spend a fourth-overall pick on a RB and then not make him the featured player in your offense.

Zeke has certainly rewarded Dallas' decision; Elliott has led the league in total rushing two out of three years, and he led in yards-per-game in 2017 while dealing with his suspension.

Leaning on Elliott has been smart business based on his effectiveness, plus the investment in the offensive line over the last several years.

Dallas has now sunk three first-round picks (Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, Zack Martin), one second (Connor Williams), and now two thirds (Chaz Green and Connor McGovern) on building up their front wall. They've spent a lot of money to keep their All-Pro guys around, plus La'el Collins.

Some would try to paint the run-heavy approach as how the team is trying to hide the weaknesses of Dak Prescott at quarterback. But in 2014, with DeMarco Murray at RB and Tony Romo at QB, the Cowboys were still 3rd in the league in rush vs. pass attempts.

This isn't about Zeke or Dak, or any other specific player. This about a team philosophy that starts at the top with Jason Garrett, and that isn't going to change even with Kellen Moore taking over as the new Offensive Coordinator.

Dallas Cowboys: Ranking Top 5 Most Indispensable Players 4

Dallas Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott (Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

We're all excited to see what new wrinkles comes from getting rid of Scott Linehan. We highly anticipate the development of Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup in the offense, coupled with the addition of Randall Cobb. We're salivating at what Blake Jarwin might become under the tutelage of the great Jason Witten.

Heck, maybe we'll see fullback Jamize Olawale's receiving skills put to more use. Perhaps gadget guys like Tavon Austin or rookie Tony Pollard will be deployed in more creative ways.

And yes, Dak Prescott's growth is another major factor in Dallas' 2019 success. It's especially interesting, and even concerning, as talks are ongoing about his long-term contract.

But make no mistake, this is still the Ezekiel Elliott show. Even if a few more of his carries become receptions in Moore's scheme, Zeke should still get the lion's share of the touches.

That's why this week's news about his incident in Las Vegas is so troubling. It probably won't lead to a suspension, but we saw what happened in 2017 when Elliott was missing for over a third of the season.

While Dallas should be better able to withstand losing Zeke now than it was two years ago, it may still be more than Prescott, Cooper, and the rest could handle. It definitely wouldn't put the Cowboys in good position to compete for a Super Bowl.

In the end, the 2019 will still come down to how well Dallas runs the ball. It's the engine; nothing else matters if the rushing game doesn't set everyone else up for success.

Don't ever take it for granted. This is still Ezekiel Elliott's offense.



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What Would a Successful Season Mean for Kellen Moore’s Future?

Mauricio Rodriguez

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Kellen Moore

Out of every chess piece moved by the Dallas Cowboys this offseason, the decision to name 30-year old Kellen Moore might be the most interesting one. Not only that, but it could be the one that makes the biggest impact on the team. After all, the Cowboys are ready to go talent wise.

With Kellen Moore taking up a new role, it's intriguing to imagine what a successful season would mean for his future with the Dallas Cowboys. Truth be told, Moore is in a pretty fortunate position to debut as an offensive coordinator. He'll be driving a unit full of talented players with almost no weak links. Last year, it wasn't the lack of quality players lined up that had the offense struggling throughout the season, but the guy in charge.

At first, the philosophy of not needing a #1 wide receiver clearly blew up on the Cowboys face. The passing game in Dallas needed a spark and they didn't find it until they traded a first rounder for Amari Cooper. Cooper's impact on the team was clear right away as he put on impressive performances on a weekly basis.

But even when Cooper was at his best, the offense still presented relevant struggles. Despite getting more first downs, the Cowboys still had trouble scoring touchdowns when in the red zone and kept leaving points on the field.

Although he's been a controversial conversation among members of Cowboys Nation, there are a few reasons to be excited about what Kellen Moore can bring to the table as a young offensive coordinator. Ever since he declared for the NFL Draft out of Boise State, where he ran a very complex offense on his way to become the QB with most wins in NCAA history, he was seen by many as an extremely smart prospect. Many expected him to have a mediocre career as a player, but saw him as a potential coach down the line.

Now it's his chance to prove the world just how smart he is and his potential as a coach. He will not only be proving it to the Cowboys organization, but all of the NFL and college football teams. Don't forget what NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah mentioned a few months ago.

Daniel Jeremiah on Twitter

I've mentioned this before- Kellen Moore is a rising star and he'll be in the mix for HC gigs (CFB or NFL) in the near future. https://t.co/hLjOb4HAUc

With a great group of talent at his disposal, it's fair to imagine Moore having a pretty successful "rookie" season at a major coaching position. If he indeed manages to turn heads with the Dallas Cowboys offense in 2019, what does that mean for his future?

In a league that's turning to the young offensive-minded coaches thanks to guys like Sean McVay, is it possible one team decides to pull the trigger and make him an offer for a head coaching gig? It certainly would seem premature, but it's still a possibility in the NFL, where teams have become increasingly impatient with their coaches.

I definitely wouldn't be surprised if next offseason, we're concerned about another team (college or NFL) trying to snatch Moore off the Cowboys. I insist in pointing out this would be a premature decision if it does happen, since Moore has very little experience, but looking at the trend in the NFL it certainly could happen.

This might be the most important year in Kellen Moore's young career. For now, let's hope he does a good job leading Dak Prescott in his fourth year as a professional player and an offense that has a solid OL and a pretty good set of skill players.

Tell me what you think about "What Would a Successful Season Mean for Kellen Moore’s Future?" in the comments below, or tweet me @MauNFL and let’s talk football! If you like football and are looking for a Dallas Cowboys show in Spanish, don’t miss my weekly Facebook Live! show, Primero Cowboys!



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Connor Williams Working as Left Tackle in Cowboys Practice

Jess Haynie

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Connor Williams

Second-year guard Connor Williams has been working as the Cowboys' left tackle during practice this week. While this isn't the plan for him in 2019, it does provide a glimpse into potential uses for Williams down the road and how Dallas might handle future offensive line moves.

Using Connor at LT this week has been a matter of necessity. The top players on that depth chart, Tyron Smith and Cameron Fleming, were not participating for other reasons.

Todd Archer on Twitter

With Tyron Smith getting a vet day and Cam Fleming not practicing because of a bruised shin, Connor Williams worked at left tackle Wednesday. He said it was his first left tackle snaps since he was at Texas. He said it felt like riding a bike after a little bit.

Indeed, Williams spent three years at left tackle in college. It was the last position he'd played before being drafted in the second round of the 2018 NFL Draft by Dallas, who immediately moved him to guard.

Connor started 10 of 13 games at guard last season. He played mostly on the left side, starting Weeks 1-9, before getting injured. Xavier Su'a-Filo played well enough in his absence that Williams didn't get the starting job back when he was healthy. However, when Zack Martin had to miss a few games at the end of the year, Connor started a right guard for those two weeks.

When Martin returned for the playoffs, Williams was back as the starting left guard in both postseason games.

Tyron Smith and Cam Fleming will be your starter and backup at left tackle next year. But for 2020 and beyond, Connor Williams' ability to play tackle creates some interesting possibilities.

La'el Collins will be an unrestricted free agent next year. Fleming will still have one year left on his deal and Dallas just spent a third-round pick on the versatile Connor McGovern. Throw in that Williams can play some tackle, and it seems as if they're covering bases for Collins eventual departure.

We could very well see a starting lineup in 2020 with McGovern at LG and Williams at RT. Another possibility is that Fleming starts at RT and Williams stays at guard, but can be moved to tackle if needed.

If nothing else, it's nice to know that Dallas has options. We may never see Connor Williams play a regular season snap at left tackle, but versatility is a great asset. It can greatly increase a player's value, and give his team some leverage and flexibility in roster management.

For the Cowboys, it does make you wonder what the future holds for the offensive line.



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